The Students’ Right To Read Redux - National Council of Teachers of English
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The Students’ Right To Read Redux

Following is a collection of the best of the blogs on The Students’ Right to Read, what it is, how it works, and how to protect it.


“How many times can you fall in love? By reading, you can fall in love every time you begin a new book or reread a treasured one.”

Donalyn Miller says this in The Council Chronicle article, “A Conversation with the Book Whisperer,” where she tells how she helps her students fall in love with books, about building a culture of reading and a community of readers in her classroom.  Her ideas embody the NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center’s mission. The Center advocates for giving students access to books and choice so they can grow into the best citizens that our democracy needs. And, we trust educators to know what is best for their kids.

Laurie Halse Anderson, in her acceptance speech for the 2015 NCTE Intellectual Freedom Award spells this out:

“The two greatest promises that America made to herself and to her children were that all people are created equal and that Americans are granted the rights to think, to speak, and to write what we want. We are accorded intellectual freedoms that are astounding and rare when viewed through the long lens of history…Without our intellectual freedoms, we will never be able to fulfill the glorious dream of equality, or the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of our people.”

This echoes what what Thomas Jefferson said several centuries ago,

“The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large…”

Nancie Atwell spells out the importance of the students’ right to choose what they read and write and proves the worth of student choice by repeating an old John Goodlad survey with the current students at her K-8 school–a school where these students make their own choices for reading and writing. The results of this survey, much different than Goodlad’s results, demonstrate the positive results of student choice in their own learning:

“When asked, ‘What’s the one best thing about this school?’ 35 percent named choices they were empowered to make, starting with books to read, ideas to write about, and topics to research in history, math, and science.”

One student added that “a school environment in which she was invited ‘to love writing and to practice, regularly and passionately’ taught her how to write, period.”

Choosing for oneself makes that important difference.

The Bowtie Boys and their teacher Jason Augustowski second these results.

Jeff Kaplan’s blog The Censors Are Coming—What You Need to Know walks you through everything you need to know from the moment you decide to select a text.

NCTE Policies such as The Students’ Right to Read  and Guidelines for Selection of Materials in English Language Arts Programs form the basis for good text selection and protection.  Teachers’ expertise in choosing texts is spelled out in Statement on Censorship and Professional Guidelines and in a blog where Louann Reid explains how she handles this, “I’m not going to say, ‘this book is about rape, child abuse, and so-and-so,’ because that doesn’t do justice to the literature.”

In this blog on challenged books, we can look at the Top Ten List of Challenged Books in 2016 and the commonalities about the challenged books side-by-side with the idea of libraries as “temples of public education and freedom of thought.” According to the list, all but Eleanor & Park and Little Bill were challenged for sexual explicitness—Eleanor & Park was challenged for offensive language and Little Bill was challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author. Four of the challenged books on the list have been challenged for their LGBTQ content/themes. Six of the books are national award winners. NCTE has participated in efforts to defend five of the books.

How can a library or a school be a “temple of public education and freedom of thought” if its books, like these, are removed or kept away from young people because someone finds them offensive? How can children open their minds through books and learn, if books are taken off the library shelves or out of classrooms?

I don’t think they can. NCTE doesn’t think they can. That’s why the students’ right to read is so very important.